The three rancheros

91ayjzgyg0lRaymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo (2016)

Opening line: “There were three of them, three girls.”

There were once three of us, three girls. We didn’t come together quite like Raymie and her three rancheros came together, but were pushed together more due to having the same teacher and liking to play make-believe games on the playground. Raymie Clarke, Louisiana Elefante, and Beverly Tapinski come together at in a slightly more unique situation, at the home of their baton twirling coach at their first baton twirling lesson. The lesson fails to proceed, however, after Louisiana faints at the thought of performing, and their coach declines to put up with “this nonsense.”

Raymie is learning to twirl in order to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. She has a plan. Three days ago, Raymie’s father ran off with a dental hygienist and Raymie is convinced that if she wins the competition, her father will see her picture in the paper and have to come home. Everything rests with her winning the competition. She soon finds out that Louisiana, who dons lucky bunny barrettes in her hair and flashy sequined dresses, wants to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition also, but she is more interested in the $1975 prize money in order to buy food for her and her granny and perhaps turn the electricity back on at home. Beverly, a scrappy girl with a chip on her shoulder and a bruise on her face, is just entering in order to sabotage the competition, for no reason in particular.

This is the story of the magic that can turn three strangers into best friends over the matter of a few days, at an age where empathy and compassion seem as natural as breathing. As Louisiana tells Raymie, “no matter what, you’re here and I’m here and we’re here together.” And often, that is enough to get through just about anything.

Delightfully honest and touching, 2.5 stars

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Lauren and Cheesy: a Love Story

51qxunmoamlThe Bridge from Me to You, by Lisa Schroeder (2014)

Opening line: “The house smells like / apple pie thanks to the / burning candle on the mantel.”

Lauren is new to the small town of Willow. She’s recently moved in with her aunt, uncle, and three young cousins, leaving a mom and baby brother back in Portland, for reasons she’s keeping close to her chest, reasons that make her sad, anxious, and a little bit angry. Colby is Willow’s golden boy, star football player about to start his senior season accompanied by his best friend in the world, Benny. Colby’s got a secret too; despite being really good at football, and despite his father’s dreams for him to get a football scholarship, Colby feels done with football. He wants to go to college to learn to build bridges, not score touchdowns. Both Lauren and Colby are feeling trapped.

When they meet at the local Jiffy Mart over a bag of Bugles, they seem to offer each other a breath of fresh air. Colby might be Lauren’s bridge out, and Lauren might be Colby’s. Things are suddenly looking up for them both. Until Benny’s accident, that is. One night, Colby’s best friend Benny is in a motorcycle accident, landing him in a coma, and Colby in the hospital waiting room, not knowing if Benny will ever recover.

I feel like I could just keep going with plot summary, because there’s no real good place to stop. Just picture the most recent sappy Nicholas Sparks movie, and you’ve probably got a good idea. I couldn’t hardly believe that one of the main characters is Colby, because this book was cheeeeesy. I think it’ll be one that my students will easily devour though, because there’s not much more you want as a thirteen year old than a perfect romance to cure all your problems. Which is basically how this one goes. The writing is equally as cheesy as the plot, probably not helped by the fact that all of Lauren’s chapters are written in verse, which the author took advantage of in a terrible sort of way. I usually love verse novels, but found this one trying way too hard.

Eh, not great literature here, folks. But not a terrible way to spend an afternoon.

1 star

 

 

Hello friend

51iiw2fcopl Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead (2015)

Opening line: “When she was eight years old, Bridget Barsamian woke up in a hospital, where a doctor told her she shouldn’t be alive.”

Bridge has two best friends, Em and Tab, and the three have been besties forever, partially because of their rule to never fight. But seventh grade has a lot of changes, including the policy that each student must join a club. However, the three musketeers have different interests, leading them to different clubs. Different clubs means different people, different people means less time for each other. And that might mean they might have to break their no-fighting rule.

One of the new people Bridge meets in her stage crew club is Sherm. Every few chapters we get a letter from Sherm written to his grandfather, a grandfather who used to be there, but no longer is, and the reader is really not sure why. And it’s not until we know more of Sherm’s backstory before the letters start making any sense.

And then we have a third narrator, a story of a teenage girl on Valentine’s Day, who, for some reason, is avoiding school. Or at least certain people at school.

These multiple perspectives weave in and out of each other, but without telling us directly how. On its own, Bridge’s story would have been a nice friendship/school middle grade novel. I probably would have enjoyed it. But it’s the multiple story lines that brings this novel up to the next level. The mystery and the various points-of-view (third person, second person, letter) the other two story lines provide bring this from a good novel to a great one. I loved it.

2.5 stars

Rainbow Rowling’s…I mean, Rowell’s…latest

51at-2bhwvqlCarry On, by Rainbow Rowell (2015)

Opening Line: “I walk to the bus station by myself.”

We all know I love Rainbow. As my Grandma would say, I would read her grocery lists. So of course I enjoyed Carry On.

For anyone who knows Rainbow, you’ll know that Carry On is a…continuation? Spin-off? of my most favorite Rainbow novel, Fangirl. In Fangirl, main character Cath and her twin sister have spent years developing a fanfiction story based on the characters of their favorite book and movie series Simon Snow (baaasically Harry Potter. With vampires). Their fanfiction story is called Carry On. And when Rainbow finished Fangirl, she didn’t feel done with the Carry On characters. Voila.

Carry On picks up in Simon Snow’s final year at Watford’s School of Magicks. Supposedly Simon is the most powerful wizard that has ever been, deemed The Chosen One, destined to save the world from the Insidious Humdrum, who is sucking up all the magic, and strangely looks just like 10-year-old Simon.  But Simon’s pretty terrible at magic. He can’t control it, which is arguably the most important thing when it comes to magic. Plus, there’s his nemesis, roommate Baz, who happens to be a vampire, and who has not shown up for school this year (which drives Simon crazy not knowing where he is). To top it all off, the Mage, Simon’s more-than-mentor, is avoiding Simon like the plague and Simon’s girlfriend Agatha has broken up with him (for Baz?). Let’s just say, it’s been a rough start. And he really better do something about the Humdrum before he wipes magic off the planet.

There are definitely mixed reviews on GoodReads about this one, due mostly to it’s obvious similarities to our greatest love, Harry. In fact, one of our book club members had a hard time getting over just that. It didn’t bother me much, because like a Goodreads reviewer said, it temporarily filled the HP hole in my heart. Is it as good as HP? Oh god, no. But is it good in its own merit? Absolutely!

Rainbow’s magic is the same here as it has been in all her other works, and her magic lives in her dialogue. It doesn’t seem to matter the setting, the genre, the audience, the plot. I love her writing because of the dialogue. Her characters always feel completely authentic to me because of the way they talk to each other. I can’t get enough of it.

Love. 2.5 stars

And the moon and the stars and the trees

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (2014)

Opening Line: “This is how it all begins. With Zephyr and Fry – reigning neighborhood sociopaths — torpedoing after me and the whole forest floor shaking under my feet as I blast through air, trees, this white-hot panic.”

With just this opening line, you get a sense of the complex, somewhat magical narrative voice of Noah, twin brother to Jude, our other narrator. These two teenagers wind a twisting tale of the years between the ages of 13 and 16. The story is not told chronologically, however, but jumps between Noah’s point-of-view at age 13 and Jude’s perspective at age 16. Once two halves of a whole, by the time of Jude’s story, the twins are barely speaking verbally, not to mention the ax on their twin telecommunication. While it’s unclear why, it is clear that their lives have completely changed following some terrible circumstances surrounding their mother’s death. Secrets were kept, hearts were broken, and futures were altered. Noah, at 13, bound for greatness with his outstanding artistic talent despite his outsider status among his classmates, has completely stopped painting and has become a quiet part of the popular crowd at the public high school by 16. Jude, queen of the parties and jealous of the fact that her brother is the apple of their mother’s eye during Noah’s story, is now a loner hiding under hats and seeking a mentor for her artwork as a part of the program at the fancy arts academy. As each twin tells their tale, we start to see how they overlap and what really happened that fateful day.

Unlike some in the YA canon, this is not a quick read. It’s meaty; 371 pages of meat, to be exact, and at least for me, a lot of it was slow-going. In the last 100 pages, though, it picked right up and I couldn’t put it down. My breakfast cereal waited in the closet, the dog went un-walked (not that the lazy guy minded), and I didn’t get out of bed until it was finished this morning. I love the twists and turns and the trying to figure it out-ness of this one. Also, the language! Like the opening line up there suggests, these two narrators don’t storytell in the most ordinary way, but in somewhat fantastical, round-about voices. Each have their own unique tendencies, but they are cut from the same cloth to be sure, and make the reader work a little harder for their supper. Not a bad thing, in my book.

Another winner for the the YA Bibliobitches book club. 2.5 stars.

An elephant-sized mystery

Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult (2014)

Opening Line: “When it comes to memory, I’m kind of a pro. I may be only thirteen, but I’ve studied it the way other kids my age devour fashion magazines.”

It’s probably not a surprise that anytime I’m in an airport, I’m bound to spend at LEAST a half hour in the cramped book store, perusing all the new books. Ever since becoming a junior high librarian, my perusing shelves of books (particularly adult books) has significantly declined. All through the school year, my TBR stack is like the Mount Everest of tween and teen lit, so the only time I really peruse is in the airport! And that’s where I first read the dust jacket for Leaving Time.

Combine reliable Jodi Picoult and elephants, and you’ve got a book I will probably enjoy.

This one focuses on Jenna Metcalf, 8th grader whose mom disappeared 10 years ago after a horrible accident at the elephant sanctuary owned by her family. One woman wound up trampled and one woman (Alice, Jenna’s mom), disappeared without a trace. Since then, Jenna has been struggling to put the pieces together and find out what happened to her mom. She seeks out the help of two people: Serenity Jones, a used-to-be-famous psychic, and Virgil Stanhope, one of the former detectives on the case who has changed his name and his career path. These three misfits have a lot of questions about that night a decade ago, but the answers are not what they expected.

I was totally surprised by the twists in this book, although I had the distinct feeling that I shouldn’t have been after they happened. Summer is a great time for mysteries, I’ve decided, because you can stay up late reading/listening, and keep listening as you are doing all the mindless things you have to do in the summer, like mow the lawn (which I did for the first time tonight!), or, as I tend to do in the summer, pack up your entire life and move. I also loved learning all about the elephants, obviously. Elephants are my favorite, partly because, as she shows in this book, their personalities and emotions are so similar to humans. Jodi Picoult did a lot of research for this novel, including spending time at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. And guys, they have live Ele-Cams! Bookmark it! (Pro Tip: don’t try to watch at night, because it will be dark.)

As I said, I can always count on Jodi to pull out an emotional and heart-felt story, and this one was no exception. 2 stars

Epic musical turned teenage dystopia

Legend, by Marie Lu (2011)

Opening line: “My mother thinks I’m dead.”

Today’s post is brought to you by a student recommendation. That’s right, folks, one of my 8th graders recommended that I read this book! I love that I have students and I love that they recommend books for me to read and I love when I love the book as much as they did!

My obsession with dystopian YA lit continues in this debut novel by Marie Lu. According to the author blurb at the back, Lu was inspired to write Legend after watching Les Miserables one afternoon. As one of the many who are anxiously awaiting the soon-to-be Hugh Jackman movie version, this is an interesting bit of information to go into the story knowing.

As in Les Mis, Lu presents us with two main characters whose opposition is inherent: the criminal and the law. June is a fifteen year old military prodigy while Day is a fifteen year old vigilante. The story is set in future Los Angeles after the Republic has taken control, and although he doesn’t work with the organized revolutionary group, the Patriots, Day is actively rebelling against the military government by destroying their planes, vandalizing their offices, and stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Meanwhile, June was born into an upper-class military family and her 1500 perfect score on the Trial (a series of tests taken at age 10 to determine your future) pushed her quickly up in the ranks.

There is little reason for June and Day to meet. That is, until June’s older brother Metias is killed and Day becomes the prime suspect.

Now June is out for revenge and she’ll stop at nothing to hunt down her brother’s murderer to bring him to justice. But what if Metias’ murder isn’t quite as it seems? Or more, what if the government she has spent her life training to defend is not as respectable as she was made to believe?

Full of intrigue, nail-biting suspense, and a little bit of romance, Legend is added to my list of recommended books for readers who liked Hunger Games. It, of course, is the beginning of a series, of which the next installment, Prodigy, is due out in January.

2 stars